STEVENS: Coach Alford Finally Gets To See The Real Pit and The Real Tony Danridge
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  02/07/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Feb. 7, 2009

Box Score |  Quotes |  Notes |  Feb. 7, 2009 - Lobo Basketball vs. UNLV 

Lobo Basketball
Lobos 73, UNLV 69 (OT)
Up Next: Lobos at Air Force, 8 p.m., Wednesday

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

There are two things that Lobos coach Steve Alford never really saw until Saturday night: 1- The real Pit; 2- The real Tony Danridge.

A lot of us knew about all this good Lobo stuff. We have seen The Pit at its rockin' best. We have seen Danridge at his rockin' best. But Alford had only seen hints and glimpses and teases. Still, good stuff, better than what most college teams have, but ...

But Saturday night against the Runnin' Rebs from UNLV The Pit and Danridge exploded and pulled UNM basketball back into its glorious past while at the same time reaching out toward a glorious future. The UNLV Rebels never really had a chance Saturday. They were fighting five Lobos on the floor and 17,407 Lobos in the stands.

"In my 18 years of coaching, I've spent more time here getting into my team about playing hard and appreciating what they have here," said Alford. "You do build from this."

Said Chad Toppert: "It's awesome to see The Pit when it's like that."

Give the Rebs and Wink Adams credit. They put up the good fight. Adams took it to the Lobos the way Tim Hardaway used to do it for the UTEP Miners. The Rebs took the Lobos into overtime, or really, the Lobos took them into overtime, before the Lobos survived 73-69 behind 26 points and nine rebounds from Danridge. The 6-foot-5 Lobo senior never left the court in the second half or in overtime.

"That took a lot of coaching," said Alford. "If a guy can't miss, it would be a dumb move to take him out."

Actually, Danridge did miss a few times. He went 10-of-13 from the floor, after taking only a single shot in the first half. Alford said he challenged his seniors at halftime when trailing UNLV 32-26.

"I thought our seniors weren't as focused as they had been," he said. "All three of them scored all our points in overtime. Tony was probably challenged the most at halftime. We told him if he's not going to shoot the ball, we're not going to win."

The thing about what Danridge did in the second half in scoring 24 points against one of the top-shelf teams in the Mountain West Conference is that Danridge really didn't do anything special.

He just did Danridge things well. He drove with power. He elevated with poise. He took smart shots and shot them well. He played with purpose and belief. He played like a leader. It was Danridge "complete."

Now, go do it again, Tony.

"We're a real tough team to beat when Tony is aggressive like that," said Toppert.

When two teams are tied 59-all and go into overtime and a player hits 26 points, there are a whole lot of big baskets being made. Probably the biggest came in overtime with the score knotted at 69-all.

The Lobos had the ball and did what they had been doing a lot in the second half. They pushed everyone wide and let Danridge do his thing one-on-one in a North-to-South (straight ahead) attack of the basket.

Danridge drove strong, rolled to his right, and touched the ball off the glass soft and sweet. His power layup with five seconds to play put UNM up 71-69. "It's just another play," said the humble Danridge. "We still have a long season to go."

Vegas brought the ball in quickly and long down the sideline, but Tre'Von Willis stepped on the line with 4.4 seconds to play. Vegas fouled Toppert on the in-bounds play and Toppert hit the free throws to form the 73-69 final.

"It's draining," said Alford after the game. "We could never pull away. I thought both teams played hard and well."

Toppert joined Danridge in double figures with 15 points. Freshman Nate Garth added ten points. Adams paced UNLV with 18 points and four assists. Reb Rene Rougeau had 12 points and 13 rebounds and hurt his team at the 4:28 mark by picking up his fourth foul and adding a technical that took him out of the game with his fifth foul.

There were lots of huge plays by both teams, but Daniel Faris had several key ones in overtime. The 6-foot-9 senior had a key block and a huge steal. He tied the game at 64-all and at 69-all in overtime, setting up Danridge's winning shot.

Another huge OT shot came at the 1:27 mark when Toppert launched in a trey to put UNM up 67-66. Danridge, Toppert and Faris scored all 14 of UNM's overtime points.

The win pushed UNM to 15-9 overall and 6-3 in the MWC race. UNLV fell to 17-6 and 5-4 in league. The Lobos play at Air Force at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. UNM shot 41.7 percent from the floor and held UNLV to 39.7 percent. UNM went 2-of-17 from behind the line and 21-of-25 from the line.

The Lobos did two important things early in the second half. They cut the Rebs' 32-26 halftime lead to 34-33. The Lobos also got The Pit involved early. Danridge made the count 34-31 on a drive and a layup that included a made foul shot. Roman Martinez blocked an Adam's shot under the basket and Danridge popped in a 15-footer to form the 34-33 score. UNLV called a 30-second timeout. The Pit was rocking.

The Pit stayed in the game the rest of the way in. So did both the teams, who stood toe-to-toe like heavyweight fighters exchanging big blows. The Rebs controlled the scoreboard most of the second half and were up 49-43 with 7:50 to play. UNM had still not hit a 3-pointer in the game: 0-for-12 with six Lobos missing from behind the line. The Lobos had four starters at that point with only one field goal and Danridge had seven buckets.

UNM came out of the break and Toppert finally banged in a trey for his team. It was 49-46 and The Pit was awake again. Rougeau got his technical with the score 53-52 in Vegas' favor. Toppert hit the two technical freebies to put UNM up 54-53. Danridge hit both ends of a one-and-one and it was 56-53.

UNLV's Oscar Bellfield came back and hit a trey on the right wing off an Adams' pass and the game was knotted at 56-all going into the 3:31 media break. That's kind of how this game flowed all night.

Vegas had a chance to avoid overtime by calling a timeout with 12.5 seconds to play and the score tied 59-all. Vegas missed two shots in the final seconds.

The game was athletic and physical from the get-go. The two teams pounded at each other, attacked each other, and the refs let 'em play. The Rebels controlled the lead most of the first half and at the 9:27 media timeout, UNLV was up 20-14. Rougeau hurt the Lobos with jumpers and had 10 points at that mark. UNLV's Willis had the only 3-pointers in the game and he had two.

Toppert threw in a long jumper to cut the Rebs lead to 20-17, but Vegas led 24-19 going into a media break at 7:20. Garth hit two free throws at 7:20 and UNM was down 24-21. Wink penetrated and kicked out to Mareceo Rutledge for a trey and the Rebs expanded to 27-21.

UNM freshman Phillip McDonald slipped loose on a breakaway dunk at 5:47 to cut the gap to 27-23 and The Pit crowd of 17,407 was up on its feet and getting mouthy. Vegas had a turnover, but Danridge quieted The Pit with a walk on a baseline drive. Faris fouled Willis on a drive at 4:33. The Reb made both free shots and UNLV was up 29-23. The score stayed there for the 3:34 media timeout.

With 54 seconds to go, Vegas still clung to that six-point lead -- and the ball. The Rebs managed to get two decent shots at the rim in the closing seconds but nothing dropped. Vegas led 32-26 after 20 minutes.

Willis and Rougeau finished the half with 10 points apiece. The Lobos had no players in double figures at the half, but had eight Lobos in the scoring column. Vegas shot 38.7 percent (12-31) from the floor in the first half and UNM shot 32.1 percent (9-28) overall and 0-of-6 from behind the line.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner